A question I am asked frequently is, “why Ruth?” Why found an organization named after Ruth Bader Ginsburg? I could tell you all the cases Justice Ginsburg partook in to pave our way to the rights many of us now enjoy, but the most straightforward answer is this: Ruth Bader Ginsburg was more than an individual but a movement. Her style and tactics of fighting for gender justice cannot be understated in importance — she faced the law, flipped it on its head, and truly prevailed in a time that did not welcome female lawyers.
Before the night of September 18, 2020, I had no idea that I would go on to found an organization in Ginsburg’s name. That night, however, there was a sense of urgency I felt—a need to take action in the wake of her death. It was almost as if without Justice Ginsburg, a gaping hole had been left in the feminist movement—and one I wanted to fill with the power of young people. I had been crying, and I remember the moment it hit me; there was no question of whether or not to act on this outrageous, seemingly crazy idea—it was a matter of making the idea come alive.
Who was I, a 16-year-old in my junior year of high school, to dare to form an organization to carry on the legacy of someone as important as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, some may ask? This is what I must make clear: that question could not have less import. You have to do it afraid—to believe that you can do it. It was Ruth that gave me that courage, driven by the burning need to act in the gaping hole left behind by her death.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg never stopped giving; she worked until the end and quite literally upended the legal framework of the United States. United States v Virginia remains one of the most impactful cases for which she gave the majority decision while on the Supreme Court. But what I still find most important about her legacy was her methods. She used the law, which at the time was an almost unprecedented way to fight for women’s equality. She would take cases with male clients who had been victims of gender discrimination, only to use those very precedents to further gender equality within the law. There are few women more important to (one could argue) rewriting the American legal system for the purpose of gender justice than Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
That same keen awareness of strategy is something that I’ve held close these past two years leading the Ruth Project. Only the arrogant would even attempt to match Ginsburg’s skillful command of the law, but we (young people) can, at the very least, take inspiration from her methods. And we have—our initiatives are always complete with legal arguments supported by student testimony. There is so much power in the intellectual advocate, and that’s what we harness at the Ruth Project.
It is that which makes me argue that Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s legacy is indeed a movement. It’s a movement toward using legal advocacy as one of the most potent tools in the fight for gender justice, but it is also a movement that we are picking up ourselves. So many of us here at the Ruth Project plan on going to law school and following in Ruth’s footsteps, but we aren’t waiting until then to take action. Why wait? We’re teaching students as young as 15 years old how to write rudimentary Title IX arguments—placing the power of legal arguments in the hands of young people who want to be the change.
I’ve learned so much in the two years since founding the Ruth Project, but what I think is one of the most important lessons is the power of inspiration—it’s why we started, and it is what holds us together. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was an individual, but the inspiration of her legacy gave birth to our movement. One in which we are literally putting the power of intellectual, legal arguments in the hands of students years and years away from law school.
I hope that Ruth would be proud if she could see us, but most of all, I hope that she would, in turn, be inspired by us. The world right now is a brutal place for the feminist—our rights are literally being stripped away—and yet I know that our generation will rebuild, alight with the power of our movement foremothers like Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Thank you, Ruth.
Remembering U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 1933 – 2020